Deuteronomy 27:23, Cursed by the Law

Cursed be he that lieth with his mother in law. And all the people shall say, Amen.

//Anyone who has read much of the Old Testament knows that the Hebrew Law had grown quite large and confusing. Scholars generally divide the law into five sections, developed at five different times in history. Here are these five sections:

1. The Covenant Code, found in Exodus 21:1-23:19. See verse 24:7, where Moses reads from the “book of the covenant.”

2. The Book of the Law, as recorded in 2 Kings 22, usually called the Deuteronomic Code. 

3. The Holiness Code, found in Leviticus 17-26.

4. The Priestly Code, a collection of verses scattered through Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

5. Finally, the section everyone knows about: the Ten Commandments.

But what fascinates many readers is a particular collection of laws with a strange punishment, embedded within the Covenant Code. 0Commit these laws and you’ll be “cursed,” like in today’s verse. There are twelve such laws, listed between Exodus 21:15-26.

What sort of deterrent is this? What if you don’t believe in curses? Will you still feel motivated to obey the law?

Trust me: you don’t want to be cursed. It means that the violator is condemned within his community, no longer a respectable member in a society which very much depends upon one another. That is why all twelve laws end with the refrain, “And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’”

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